When in a brand new relationship, isn’t it amazing how much you have to say to each other, how you listen carefully so you can hear what your new love has to say, how careful you are not to interrupt, giving thought and consideration to your responses? And don’t you feel heard and validated? Doesn’t your new love make you feel good because he/she is so “into you.” If you accidentally interrupt you are quick to apologize and wait for them to finish what they were saying and sometimes he/she tells you to go on, that they were finished, because they want to show you how polite and respectful they are of your feelings, to show you that they care about you and don’t consider you rude for breaking in because that, well, that’s just what happens sometimes when enthusiasm abounds.
Now, fast forward that very same relationship five, ten years and notice how you are preparing what you’re going to say next or remembering what it was you wanted to say that might not have anything to do with what your partner is talking about while your partner is trying to communicate something to you.
If the discussion is heated, everything heats up. Not only are you preparing what you’re going to say while your partner is talking, you can’t stand waiting for them to finish talking because you already know what they are going to say. You’ve heard it a million times already so why wait when you can just jump right in and give your response or retort. Now, isn’t it amazing that familiarity and time have allowed you to throw the question of being rude vs. polite right out the window? And he/she does the same to you so your intense or heated discussion turns into a fight for the floor, who is going to talk and who is going to talk, because it’s quite clear no one is listening.
And isn’t that about the time you begin accusing each other of never listening or not caring? Which is the cue for one or both of you to clam up and walk away, sometimes throwing in a parting shot like, “I knew better than to try to talk to you about this.” If your partner runs after you to say something, it’s with a raised voice and will contain at least as much acid as your parting comment.
Now, if you’ve had a few drinks, like coming home after a party, this wonderful style of non-communication can go on for hours and by the end of the first hour you’re not only not listening to each other, you’re arguing about something entirely different than the triggering argument. Something like why he/she was ignoring you all night turns into you don’t know how to treat women/men because your mother treated your father like dirt or vice verse.
And the culmination of such an amazing display of working at never listening to the other side can be that one storms out or that you both descend into the polite, “I hate you so much I’m only going to be polite to you routine.” Why you might even get so far over on your side of the bed you’re in danger of falling on the floor because you want your partner to notice that you do not, under any circumstances, want them to touch you!
Hey, isn’t this the man/woman that you couldn’t listen to long enough or understand well enough just a few short years ago? What happened? You happened that’s what. No, don’t go pointing at your insensitive partner. Point at yourself because the only person you can change is yourself. Respect begets respect. If you treat your partner with respect, unless your partner has some serious character defects (and that’s rare), you can expect that your partner will follow your lead and treat you with respect.
It’s really easy. Just take the time to listen to what your partner has to say, even if you’ve heard it a million times before, even if you’re feeling frustrated or angry or hurt. Let your partner put a period at the end of his/her sentence before you respond or say what you have to say. You’ve heard of modeling good behavior for kids. Well, you can model good behavior for your partner.
Most importantly, if you work at showing your partner you care about what they think, even if you disagree, your partner is very likely to show you the same respect. Don’t get lazy because you think the relationship is so solid it’s not going anywhere no matter how rude you are. It will go somewhere and unfortunately it usually goes somewhere at a snail’s pace so you can look forward to years of unhappiness, not being heard because you don’t listen.
As a wise woman once said to me as I was preparing to leave home and begin my own adult life, “listen” and “whenever possible, say yes.” Still excellent advice over half a century later.